Necessity and Dad — both fathers of inventions

“Work is its own reward.”

My late dad quoted this often to motivate his six children on the farm at Basswood, Man., 50 years ago.

However, that didn’t stop him from making a few inventions to make the work lighter.

The inventions may not have been unique, and a few were merely “a new use for an old product,” my university marketing textbook teaches. Yet Dad’s creativity did lighten the workload, and keep his four sons interested.

Not all of his inventions worked. He’d vex about the problem. Once he had spent weeks in his shop in winter, fabricating and testing, and then he quietly dismantled the contraption, never to mention it again. I am sure Thomas Edison did the same thing. Who knows what the modern world has missed out on?

Does anyone enjoy fencing? Dad used his 955 Caterpillar track loader to “pound” posts. Backing up and with a long string on the ground as a guide, Dad would lower the heavy gravel bucket on a post and sink it into the ground. A son with long arms would hold the post, and then stand back. We’d have a cut-off hockey stick to measure depth, a measuring rope for distance between posts, and Dad would adjust the straightness by pulling the Cat’s steering levers. Presto — “Next post, please David.”

New to the farm in 1967, Dad decided the hayfield needed ripping up, and so after the hay crop, he began. The Fordson Major tractor and the 10 foot deep tiller made for a slow go.

The villain was not the underpowered tractor, the narrow implement, or the rough terrain — it was the hot August sun. Dad quickly rigged a sheet of plywood on four two-by-two inch posts, and with wire X-bracing, he had a shady canopy.

Dad’s invention lasted a day. The furrows, the engine vibrations, and the hasty engineering served to reduce the canopy to a mess of wood and wire. The plywood became the new chicken coop door. Dad went out and bought a big straw hat.

Winter snows and Dad used to fight it out. The white flakes caused stuck tractors, snowy cattle feed areas, and a farm laneway that his sons had to shovel.

Dad got two big tractor tires, laid them flat, chained them together and used them as a drag to pack the snow. I don’t believe this idea was his — maybe his brother, Walter’s, with whom Dad would consult. Packed snow takes up 1/10th the depth of loose snow. Combined with freezing temperatures, the snowpack became part of the terra firma. The spring thaw melted it all away.

In 1967-68, Mom and Dad made extra money by driving the school bus for a year. The older 36-seat bus became cantankerous as December arrived, especially with the morning start-up. Dad must have envisioned his hay bales as huge bricks and so he went to work. He built a big three-sided “garage,” which swallowed the entire bus. For the roof, he went into the woods and came out with about 15 long poles. He spread them out, bridging the roof. He then unfurled a huge tarp and tied it securely. The tarp draped down to become the door.

The transportation boss stopped by one day and he was quite impressed by Dad’s care of the school division’s asset. As spring arrived, we fed the “garage” to the cows.

Mom and Dad always planted huge gardens to help out their city relatives in Winnipeg. Potatoes were key. Dad had acquired two two-foot-wide adjustable horse drawn garden weeders/hillers. Since there was no horse in sight, Dad built a special hitch for his S Case chore tractor. The hitch had two attach points at exactly the three-foot width between the rows. With Dad and Mom (or a brother) each guiding a weeder/hiller hooked behind the tractor, which straddled the rows perfectly, the two-acre potato plot was done in short order.

For planting, Dad adjusted his old three-bottom plow so that you could slowly follow and drop seed potatoes into the open trench. Then with another pass, the plowman would cover that, while opening another one — all spaced evenly for Dad’s summer hilling hitch.

At harvest time, digging, gathering, and hauling them was heavy toil. My back still aches.

In the early 1970s, and with the advice of two brothers-in-law, Dad bought a unique Welger baler. This unknown contraption hung on the rear of a combine and baled the straw, chaff, and unthreshed grain as it all poured out the back end. It sounded plausible. Cows would feast. Dad painstakingly hooked it up, and when harvest season began, the Welger began to spit out “shredded wheat” bales in flat four-by-three-by-one-foot shapes.

All seemed well. Then Dad moved onto a hilly field and the misery began. The Massey 90 combine had barely enough horsepower to turn the wheels and run the separator, let alone carry and power the heavy mechanical appendage. So Dad had to gear down, slow down, and monitor the motor’s temperature gauge — all of which causes grief in harvest season.

After a few days, the baler sat perched on a 45-gallon drum in the yard when we got home from school. The experiment was over, but so were the headaches. The German-made innovation was not for him. He sold it to a brother-in-law. Thus ended the neighbours’ curiosity.

Later, Dad built a table onto the feeder chute of the mix-mill so we could grind up those bales with their grain/chaff “goodies” for the beef herd.

In anticipation of those Welger bales littering the field, Dad spent time in winter building a power-take-off powered field bale elevator. It was off-set in order to drive by and convey the bales onto the hay rack. He tinkered, bolted, and hammered for weeks. The test run was a bust… something about not getting the gear ratios right. He dismantled his invention, never to be discussed again.

Mom and Dad fired up a kitchen wood stove from olden days to help heat their 40-year-old farmhouse. That meant firewood for fuel. Dad found a three-foot diameter circular saw connected to an axle and belt pulley. With some rigging, he hung it on the front of the S Case. The tractor’s belt pulley lined up with the saw pulley, and with a spliced eight-inch wide 20-foot long belt, the saw whirred away. We all stood aside while Dad carefully slid the deadfall trees into the saw blade from two feet back. We soon had a half-ton truckload of 14-inch logs. Why waste time with a temperamental chainsaw?

Every few winters, Dad would decide he was fed up with certain sloughs. He would start up his 955 loader, bulldoze trees, and clear the land. That left him piles of trees and scrub to burn. However, there were unburned trees along the edges or inside the pile. What to do?

Dad spotted his old rusty deep tiller. He decided the heavy-duty shanks could serve as forks to sift through those burned piles and rake out the wood. In a day he had five shanks bolted onto the bucket, and off he went, Cat tracks clacking, to attack the scrub piles. At the end of the day, he clacked home with five bent, mangled shanks/forks. He claimed victory. Soon there would be roots to pick. Thanks Pa.

The hand crank was too laborious, so Dad fashioned a V-belt, two pulleys and an electric motor to power the meat grinder. Whole quarters of beef disappeared into that device.

In retirement, Dad switched to woodworking and he made toys for his grandchildren. Instead of labour-saving goals, his efforts now brought joy to little ones.

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